Innovative Strategies for Increasing Active Parental Consent in School-Based Drug Education Research

Published in: Seventh Conference on Health Survey Research Methods / Edited by Marcie L. Lynamon and Richard A. Kulka (Hyattsville, Maryland: DHHS Publication, 2001), no. (PHS) 01-1013, p. 27-34

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2001

by Jennifer Hawes-Dawson, Gail L. Zellman, Sarah K. Cotton, Marvin Eisen

Considerable research literature documents the negative impact of active parental consent on participation rates and sample bias in school-based studies of adolescents, especially studies on sensitive topics such as drug use or sexual behavior. Yet little has been written about promising strategies for increasing parental response when active consent is either required by federal or state law or by local Institutional Review Boards (IRBs). Consequently, researchers who are required to implement active parental consent methods lack solid guidance about what does and does not work to enhance parental return of signed permission slips for their children. This paper describes how the authors achieved an overall parental response rate of 77% under active (written) consent requirements in 12 large, inner-city schools with substantial minority populations. While the 77% form return rate is higher than that typically reported in the active consent literature, achieving it required an intensive and costly campaign that required a high level of support from school principals, coordinators, and teachers. The authors describe our consent plan and incentives and discuss their costs and effectiveness in implementing in- school surveys with 6,300 sixth-grade participants in testing a school-based drug prevention program called Lions-Quest Skills for Adolescence. They also examine the repercussions of active versus implicit (passive) parental consent procedures on study outcomes (response rates, data quality, fieldwork procedures, schedules, and costs) and compare our results with similar RAND research and other published studies.

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